`Pink Panther` director Blake Edwards dies

Los Angeles: Oscar-winning director Blake Edwards, who made the `Pink Panther` movies and the 1961 classic `Breakfast at Tiffany`s`, has died at the age of 88, his agent said Thursday.

Edwards, who died Wednesday, worked with cinema legends including Audrey Hepburn, Cary Grant, Tony Curtis and Jack Lemmon in a career stretching more than half a century.

Married to actress Julie Andrews, he also famously rated actress Bo Derek a perfect "10" in the 1979 film of that name with Dudley Moore, and won a honorary lifetime achievement Oscar in 2004.

But he is probably best known for the "Pink Panther" series starting in 1963, in which bumbling Inspector Clouseau played by British actor Peter Sellers hunts David Niven`s aristocratic jewel thief Sir Charles Lytton.

"He was the most unique man I have ever known -- and he was my mate. He will be missed beyond words and will forever be in my heart," his wife said in a statement.

He died in Santa Monica Wednesday night "surrounded by his family, including his adoring wife of 41 years, Julie Andrews," from complications of pneumonia, said Edward`s agent Lou Pitt.

Born William Blake Crump in Tulsa, Oklahoma on July 26, 1922, Edwards was a stepson of stage director Jack McEdwards. He grew up in the film business, went to school with children of Hollywood stars and roomed with actor Mickey Rooney.

After a brief stint as an actor, Edwards mastered behind-the-camera crafts including screenwriting, directing and producing. He began as a script writer for a radio detective show where the first glimmers of his humor appeared.

The "Pink Panther" movies -- with their infectious theme music scored by Henri Mancini -- were immediate blockbusters, although Edwards did not always see eye to eye with Sellers.

The men clashed on the set, but Edwards allowed Sellers to make a bumbler out of Clouseau and move the character to the center of the plot. It worked.

They made seven films altogether between 1964 and 1978. But the relationship between the two men soured, and at the time of Sellers` death in 1980, Edwards was working on a new Clouseau movie without him.

"Peter Sellers became a monster. He just got bored with the part and became angry, sullen and unprofessional," Edwards said in remarks on the industry website imbd.

In the end, Edwards was to work closest with Andrews, who ditched her most holy image as the nun Maria in the "Sound of Music" to play a cross-dresser in his 1992 film and 1995 stage production of "Victor/Victoria."

She even famously bared her breasts in his 1981 film, "S.O.B."

Art imitating life became a natural and recurring theme for Edwards, and he was accused of doing just that in "S.O.B.," about a director whose wholesome film starring his wife bombs.

To save the movie, the director decides to make it steamier and win a Restricted rating by adding nude shots of his wife, but Edwards was accused of manipulating Andrews.

Edwards named Jack Lemmon as his favorite actor to work with. He played Jack Clay, who slides into alcoholism with his wife, played by Lee Remick, in the 1962 film "Days of Wine and Roses.".

Edwards` films range widely in subject, including the coming-out story of "Breakfast at Tiffany`s," adapted from the Truman Capote novel, earning Oscars for Hepburn, Mancini and Johnny Mercer, who wrote the lyrics to "Moon River."

Edwards is survived by Andrews, his second wife whom he married in 1969, along with their five children, seven grandchildren and two great-grandchildren, his agent said.

Bureau Report